If you peruse Instagram or the many overlanding groups popping up on Facebook these days, they might lead you to believe that every time you camp or travel, you’ll be rewarded with the perfect forest backdrop, an amazing waterfall at your tent’s door, or picturesque mountains outside of your van’s tailgate—just the thing to photograph with your nasty-ass feet in the foreground.
However, anyone who’s ever camped for more than a night outside of a state campground will tell you that not all campsites are great. Here’s an example.
Mercedes and I decided to go camping outside of Bend, Oregon for a weekend. This wasn’t some overland adventure or week-long trek across the country. This was a weekend camping trip.
We left work early on a Friday so we could meet Mercedes’ friend and husband for dinner and a couple of Bend’s famous craft beers. Knowing we’d likely get back to camp late, we opted to find a camp spot that wasn’t two hours outside of town.
Before we left, however, we searched for a camp spot on FreeCampSites.net, a webpage that lists free camping places (as well as paid places) all across the world. This site looked perfect for our short Friday night stay. It was 20 minutes from Bend, right off the road, but still far enough out that we should have some peace and quiet.
We got to Bend earlier than we thought, so we decided to scope out the site before dinner. We drove The PDXJ and our roof top tent-equipped Dinoot trailer to the area. It looked good. There was one pickup there, but that was it. However, something told me not to unhook the trailer and leave it until we got back. I can’t pinpoint what it was; just a gut feeling.
Admittedly, when we camp we often go with our gut instincts on things. We’ve had bad gut feelings about camp spots before, such as the time we tried to camp outside of Winnemucca, Nevada. We set up camp as people kept coming and going into the woods, leaving cars and coming back, just some weird stuff. Turns out that there was a lot of drug activity at this camp site (or so said the locals), so we opted for a hotel in town that ended up being even scarier).
Anyhow, back to Bend. After our initial visit to the campsite, we went into town, trailer in tow, and had dinner, a beer, and eventually headed back out of town to our camp site for the night.
When we pulled off the pavement, we noticed the truck was still there from earlier which was a bit odd, since it was now past 10pm. But so be it. We appeared to be the only others there. We put the stabilizer jacks down on the trailer, popped open our tent, and headed to bed.
Not long thereafter, a car pulled into the camping area, which really wasn’t much more than a dirt pullout with a couple of places between trees that were perfect for other vehicles to park. The car wasn’t there too long before it left. Then about 30 minutes later, we heard people talking. And by talking I mean yelling profanities. Then people giggling. And then more yelling. Then more cars came. More cars went. It was now well past midnight. More yelling.
Where the hell were we? What was this place?
I looked over at Mercedes, who was awake, too. We were both perturbed, slightly concerned, but tired.
“Do you think we should pack up and go somewhere else?” Mercedes asked.
Pissed off at the ruckus and tired I said stubbornly, “I’m not packing up at this time of night. I’m freaking tired. There’s probably just a bunch of people drinking.”
We agreed to stay and just leave in the morning. We did not get much sleep.
The next morning we awoke to bright, brisk sunshine. It was mostly quiet, although we could hear some lady loudly complaining about something. I didn’t really pay much attention. However, I was surprised to hear someone so close in proximity to our spot. We decided not to make breakfast and to just pack up and leave as soon as we could.
I got dressed and climbed down our roof top tent’s ladder. I looked over to my right and saw a vehicle no more than a couple car lengths away from ours, only a few trees separating our two vehicles. There appeared to be totes or containers all around their car. A man came walking by our site. I said “Good morning.” He just looked over and kept walking. Friendly chap.
I walked a bit farther out in front of our site to see exactly who or whom had parked next to us. It looked to be about three people, and there were a couple of plastic pet cages on the ground; the kind you’d transport cats in if you were going to the veterinarian. Two people were loudly cackling at each other. What the hell is this? And again, where the hell are we?
No sooner did I think this, when a Deschutes County Sheriff’s car pulls up to the entrance of this … this … place, completely blocking the entrance. This is now getting totally weird. He exited his patrol car and went to talk to the people with the cat carriers. I went over to Mercedes and told her what I saw. We couldn’t hear them say anything, but we figured he’d probably come talk to us next.
About five minutes went by, and sure enough, here comes a Sheriff’s deputy. He’s got his uniform on and is wearing dark sunglasses. He strolls over and greets us with an emphatic and authoritative “Good morning. Whatcha doin’ here?”
“Good morning officer,” I said. “We’re just camping for the night. We’d usually camp farther out, but we met some friends in town for dinner.”
“Where are you from?” He questions.
In stereo, Mercedes and I answered “Portland.”
“Ah, ok,” he said. “I was just wondering because you’re camping in a known transient camp.”
Again in stereo, we reply with a “uhhhhh …”
My tiny reptilian brain is now trying to process this. So let me get this straight: We’re in a transient camp? Like a homeless camp? Boy, can we pick the good sites! However, this probably explains the fussing last night.
“I figured with your setup you probably weren’t here knowingly,” said the sheriff. “Hey, that’s a cool trailer,” he remarked.
The sheriff went on to say the people next to us with the cats live out of their vehicle but had been having some problems with the law, and sometimes sleep at this spot. He said they have to take the cats and a bunch of stuff out of the vehicle at night to sleep. He admitted it was a sad thing, but they were regularly in trouble with the authorities. He had, however, sent them on their way this time.
We discussed the state of Bend’s homeless problem with the deputy (we didn’t know they had a homeless problem), the crazy housing market in Bend, and some cool places to camp and venture off road the next day. Before we knew it, we were on our way.
We did feel badly for the people who were living out of their vehicle (not by choice, mind you), but also had a few laughs at the fact that, of all places we could’ve ended up for the night near Bend, we ended up there.
So, where’s the worst place you’ve camped?